Spider e-mail ‘sensationalist’

2010-03-19 00:00

A FRIGHTENING e-mail showing the infected wounds from an alleged violin spider bite have been called “unfounded and sensationalist” by a Natal Museum curator.

The circulating e-mail warns that due to “good rain and hot climate” the “very dangerous” violin spider is breeding rapidly and moving into houses.

In response to the shocking pictures of a thumb where the skin has blackened, split and turned septic, the museum’s Burgert Muller said, “the damage to the man’s thumb would in all likelihood be due to secondary infection to the wound, and it is also questionable whether the man was bitten by a spider at all.”

Muller said only one species of violin spider is found in homes, and very rarely at that. “While savanna species have been collected in houses, this should be considered an exception, as they are usually found under rocks, logs and in termite mounds out in the veld,” he said.

Instead, KwaZulu-Natal residents should be more wary of the sac spider. Commonly found in houses, the sac spider has cytotoxic venom which des­troys skin and tissue cells.

Although research has not been conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, the sac spider is responsible for 75% of poisonous spider bites in Gauteng.

“This is most likely due to the spiders’ wandering behaviour and them being quite aggressive,” said Muller.

“The spiders are quite widespread throughout KwaZulu-Natal, from St Lucia all the way down to Port Edward,” said Muller. “They also occur throughout Pietermaritzburg.”

Given its name for the sacs it builds instead of spinning webs, the small sac spider appears almost translucent and yellowish. It usually has elongated front legs with eight dark eyes prominent on its pale body.

A bite from a sac spider will cause a lesion which may take weeks, or in extreme cases months, to heal.

Dr Rasheeka Bridgmohun Haridass said she has seen more tick bites than spider bites recently, but is prepared to treat one should the need arise.

“We treat spider bites with an antibiotic and topical antihistamine,” she said. “Of course, if a fever presents itself, we treat it with antipyretics to bring the temperature down.”

If bitten, experts recommend keeping the spider so the appropriate treatment can be administered.

 

sidebar: Identifying a sac spider bite:

Symptoms develop between two and four hours after the painless bite.

Although initially resembling a mosquito bite, a sac spider bite will become painful and more swollen.

If it ulcerates into a large surface lesion (which can be as big as 10 centimetres) it will require medical attention. Antibiotic treatment may be required to treat secondary infections. The wound will take between two and four weeks to heal, where the lesion might take months to improve.

In extreme cases, scarring can only be removed surgically.

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